Both Microsoft and Apple are investing heavily in touchscreen technologies. The soon to be released Windows 7 software has robust support for touchscreen devices, and it’s a safe bet that we’ll see touchscreens in Apple PCs very soon as well. One related technology that is looming large on the horizon is haptics. Haptics provides the ability feel computer output. You’ve experienced haptics in game controllers that vibrate and shake when game action takes you over a bumpy road. The iPhone and other smart phones include haptic feedback that vibrates the device to communicate various messages, such as when your phone rings.
Haptics is about to move to a new level of sophistication. Immersion Corporation has developed a technology it calls ‘high-fidelity’ haptics. In a demonstration of the technology, a volunteer was asked to play pinball on a haptic-equipped tablet PC. The volunteer claimed that she was able to feel the ball roll across the hard surface of the virtual pinball machine. She could feel the ball hit bumpers and paddles. She could feel all of the motion of the game, just as if she had her hands on an actual pinball machine. Without the haptics, she found the game to be cold and dead.
Microsoft and Apple are looking to haptics to help users adjust to interacting with a computer through its touch-sensitive display rather than a keyboard and mouse. Through haptics, a displayed keyboard might provide many of the tactile cues that a physical keyboard provides. Far beyond current haptic technologies, high-fidelity haptics will provide thousands of different sensations which will carry important tactile cues and information to bring the virtual reality of computing a little closer to physical reality. An article in this week’s Computerworld declares Haptics to be the “feel-good technology of the year.
- Haptics: The feel-good technology of the year [Computerworld]